Base Instincts

Geoffrey Kabaservice's 'Rule and Ruin'

The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party
Geoffrey Kabaservice
Oxford University Press, $29.95, 504 pp.

There is a certain astonishment in political journalism over the current state of the Republican Party. Sympathetic liberals like E. J. Dionne and idiosyncratic conservatives like Michael Gerson join apostate Republicans like David Frum in protesting the GOP’s secession from moderation, compromise, and any ideologically inconvenient facts.

The 2010 midterm elections only sharpened the GOP’s pursuit of conservative ideological purity, as Tea Party activists swept a number of Democrats and moderate Republicans out of office. Conservative intransigence and the resulting Beltway gridlock have sparked renewed interest in political moderation. Groups like Americans Elect and No Labels are organizing to end ideological trench warfare and get government working again.

In Rule and Ruin, Geoffrey Kabaservice presents a compelling case that current GOP radicalism is just the most recent, visible outgrowth of a decades-long project. Midcentury conservative stalwarts like Phyllis Schlafly and Barry Goldwater began a still-raging argument over conservative electoral strategy. They believed that the Republicans could only crack the New Deal coalition by whipping up the country’s conservative base. Moderates maintained that electoral strength came from courting independents. Though the base-mobilization strategy’s first trial run (in the 1964 elections) was an indubitable failure, the...

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About the Author

Conor Williams is a doctoral candidate in Georgetown University’s Government Department and a freelance journalist. Read his work at